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Governor’s orders impacts funeral homes

Even with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forcing people to re-examine their habits in an effort to stay home and healthy, life goes on as normal in some aspects.

One of those aspects, unfortunately, is death.

How families deal with the passing of a loved one has changed since the pandemic in the days of social distancing and mandated closings of non-essential businesses.

Funeral homes, typically the business that provides needed comfort and needed services to those families, have seen drastic changes to their business and what they can offer to families as a result.

Timothy Corder, General Manager at McCreary County Funeral Home, and Israel Clark, Funeral Director, say new regulations have made the funeral industry change how they do business.

“It has changed the whole aspect of the funeral service industry,” Corder said. “It has been an adjustment on us and the families we serve, but what can you do?” he asked.

Funeral homes now have to follow guidelines set forth by Governor Andy Beshear and the Funeral Directors Association of Kentucky when planning and conducting funerals.

Corder said he hands each family a list of guidelines so they understand what the funeral home can and can not do. Funeral homes are not even allowed to publicize the date and time of a service anymore, since that makes it a public event and the new guidelines prohibit it.

“The hardest thing I have had to do is tell the families ‘we can’t do that’,” he said. “We are a service industry, and our job is to cater to the family’s wishes, but with the new restrictions there are things we are now not able to provide.”

Tracey Strunk, of Hickman Strunk Funeral Home, shares that sentiment.

“We normally ask the families what do they want us to do, now we are telling them what we can do,” Strunk said. “We are a service industry, and that aspect has really changed.”

“The families understand and they have been very patient. We hate it just as much as they do.”

All visitations, funerals and burial services must be private events and limited to no more than 10 members of close family of the deceased. No longer can the funeral home open their doors for a viewing – allowing potentially hundreds of well-wishers come to pay their respects. Instead the services are more sedate and closed, limited to only a few individuals. Services have no food, very few flowers and no live music, something that people are having to adjust to.

“People need the support of the community and they can’t get it now,” Strunk said. “We are seeing a shift from traditional services to just graveside services due to the limitations.”

To accommodate potential larger crowds for services, Corder said the funeral home has speakers they can set outside to let those who wish to hear the service do so from the comfort and safety of their vehicles. He also noted some funeral homes in other areas are offering drive-through services.

Hickman Strunk is implementing a stronger virtual presence, offering recordings of the service on social media so families can share with others.

Jim and Debbie Murphy, owners of both the McCreary County and Pine Knot Funeral homes, have faced some tough decisions over the past month as the changes not only impact the families, it impacts the business side as well.

The Murphy’s have had to furlough several staff members temporarily, and have sought a SBA Paycheck Protection Loan to ensure their staff can get paid.

“I have a good staff and I want to be able to pay them,” Debbie said. “They, too, have families to feed and bills to pay. We are all feeling the impact of this.”

Strunk said her family has felt the pinch as well, and has cut hours for staff, but has not had to furlough anyone yet.

“We’re going to handle this,” she said. “We provide a service, and we can’t provide all that we can right now. It has definitely had an impact.”

“But I think a lot of small businesses are going to suffer too much before this is all over.”

One question Corder has is that once these restrictions are lifted, will the industry return to what it once was, or is there going to be a shift toward keeping things the same as they are at the present moment.

“Are people going to want to go back and realize the tradition of families being able to say goodbye and honor their loved ones in the way we have been used to, or is this the new reality that will stay with us?”

Strunk thinks once the crisis has passed, things in the funeral industry will return to some sense of normalcy.

“I think the majority of people see the need to come together and lean on the support of the community in times of a loved one passing,” she said. “There may be a segment, mainly of the younger generation, who may opt to keep with the smaller services, but either way, we will still be there for them.”

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